The very best MBA recommendations support and reinforce the rest of your business school application
by providing specific details about your work experience and personal qualities. They can even push
borderline candidates into the admit pile! But, it’s not just about the letter itself; it’s also about who is
While much of the MBA recommendation letter process is outside of your control, the choice of who will
write your reference letters is something you do control. In fact, selecting your references will be among
the most important decisions you will make in your MBA application.
When it comes to choosing your references, it is important to keep in mind that there is no “one-size-
fits-all” solution. Although it is rare, you may actually decide to choose different references for each of
the schools you apply to. It is very important to ensure that your references match each B-school’s
specific reference letter requirements. Start with a careful reading of the criteria supplied by each
program. Many schools require two references, while a handful requires three.
For example, Stanford requires two superiors and a peer reference whereas Harvard requires three
letters from people who have supervised you. Read the application instructions carefully because
choosing a reference who does not meet the admissions committee’s specified requirements could
undermine your entire application.
Other than any specific instruction as such, the general order of your recommenders should be:
1. Current direct supervisor
2. Past direct supervisor
3. Current indirect supervisor
4. Past indirect supervisor
5. Current coworker
6. Past coworker
Asking your boss for a recommendation letter
Most schools specifically ask for a letter from your direct boss. If you don’t submit a letter from the boss,
most schools expect you to explain why. A manager or supervisor is known as your “anchor reference”,
i.e. someone who has been closely observing your work. Their input counts the most as they can best
provide specific testimony about your most recent performance and qualities.
Of course, there are certainly legitimate reasons for not asking your boss to write a letter for you – such
as not wanting to risk losing your job. Whatever the reason, proactively address this issue in an optional
essay; otherwise, the admissions board might assume you’re trying to hide performance issues.
If you are faced with this dilemma, watch this video to know how you can navigate this situation:
MBA recommendation letter for an entrepreneur
If you’re an entrepreneur or you work for the family business, you’ll need letters of recommendation
from another source. Using a family member isn’t credible, and if you run your own business, you likely
won’t have a formal supervisor. One idea is to utilize a client that you work with very closely. If you
founded a business, you can also ask your co-founder to write a recommendation as well.
Unless they know you really well, don’t just select the person at your company with the highest title or
an alumnus of your target B-school. A person who works with you everyday will have much more
compelling things to say about you than someone with a title but doesn’t know you. Sure, having an
endorsement from a board member is powerful, but admissions committees are much more interested
in hearing from someone who really knows you and can speak to your work ethic than from the most
impressive random person you could find.
MBA recommendation letter examples
MBA recommendations broadly fall into two categories. Some will ask specific questions and the other
will be a personalized one. Here are examples of both.
Personalized MBA recommendation letter
I have worked closely with XYZ for the past two years, during which time he served as a career advisor in
the Career Services Office at ABC College. I found Mr. XYZ to be an exceptionally motivated and talented
young man who comported himself well in all the endeavors she undertook. I firmly believe that he will
be successful in whatever he pursues.
Mr. XYZ has a very sharp and inquisitive mind. He is also very perceptive and able to read people and
situations with a great deal of accuracy. He is strongly committed to the organizations for which he
works, and I am confident that as he continues to mature he will be an asset to society. XYZ assertively
addresses problems and exhibits a maturity beyond her years in her approach to situations.
I am very comfortable with allowing him to represent the office to external constituents. This confidence
was evidenced by my recent decision to have XYZ accompany a group of seniors to a recruiting
conference. He effectively interfaced with corporate representatives and gathered a great number of
employment leads for students back on campus.
In conclusion, I am certain that Mr. XYZ will shine as a graduate student and go on to become a very
accomplished business person. He possesses the right combination of drive, intelligence, and
interpersonal skills required to excel in school, and in life. Please feel free to contact me if you have any
MBA recommendation letter with specific questions
1. How long have you known the applicant and in what connection? If applicable, briefly describe the
applicant’s role in your organization. XYZ was selected to join ABC 1 year ago. As Managing Partner, I
am up-to-date on his position of excellence. I conferred with his direct supervisors to complete this
XYZ is an outstanding professional, one of the most promising associates we have taken on. His input is
creative, insightful and I trust him to manage our more complex tasks. XYZ is highly motivated and
driven by an amazing passion to succeed. He embodies a perfect mix of the attributes we look for in a
consultant: personal impact, great analytics and excellent problem solving skills. He couples this with his
insatiable interest in serving clients with the best possible solution.
I insisted on writing this recommendation myself, as I see XYZ as one of the promises of this firm and
one of the great future business leaders his country. It was important for me to convey my
overwhelming support of his candidacy. Upon completing my own BSc from Stanford and my PhD from
Cambridge, I understand the value studying in an international setting can provide and I am very
interested that this opportunity be given to XYZ, a man who will know how best to use it.
2. In what ways has the candidate distinguished himself or herself among peers?
XYZ is one of the best
business analysts we hired in recent years. We trust XYZ with especially complex assignments and he
delivers far above expectations. He set ambitious goals, managed the work and directed professionals
carrying out negotiations. The financial results were nothing short of outstanding.
XYZ excels in leadership and teamwork. In his most recent project XYZ led a client team of 3 middle-tier
managers in the lean transformation of a retail chain, and managed their work effectively. He coached
them, gave feedback and allowed them to grow within their organization by letting them present the
team’s finding in progress reviews.
XYZ’s initiative and creativity in problem solving is exceptional; recently, he researched an area in which
the firm had little expertise. He discovered resources which provided enormous value to our client.
3. Comment on the candidate’s professional weaknesses and opportunities for growth. XYZ’s most
apparent weakness is in what we call in “written communications”. Written communications refers to
client exhibits. In these exhibits XYZ displayed a lack of attention to the small details in his first projects.
XYZ has been given constructive feedback on the subject following his last two engagements and has
shown considerable improvement, delivering clear and well structured documents.
I have always been impressed with the way that XYZ has been proactive in communicating his
development needs to the team leadership and requesting coaching and feedback. This has enabled us
to pay more attention to areas in which he needed help and guide him accordingly. I imagine his
initiative and take-charge attitude is also a source of his exceptional performance.
XYZ’s goals after his MBA are clear – he wants to be a partner at the firm, and he doesn’t hide his plans.
We support him in this path unequivocally and look forward to his swift return.
4. In what context have you been able to assess the candidate’s written and spoken English? A great
portion of XYZ’s work is conducted in English. He is required to submit his reports and documents in
English. Similarly, as we are an international organization, all our training and communication with other
teams are conducted in English.
XYZ was selected to work on a project in Sydney. He was stationed in Australia for over a month and
interacted solely in English for that time. Colleagues reported that his English communication was
flawless. All communication with the team, the client and the many experts he was required to
interview for the project was in English.
5. Please comment on the applicant’s behavior (e.g., respect for others, honesty, integrity,
accountability for personal behavior) within your organization and in the community. XYZ has the
crucial ability to admit his shortcomings. He has the integrity to admit that he didn’t know the correct
answer and would check his data again, returning with clearer and more verified answers.
XYZ is a “people person” – and this is undoubtedly one of the most remarkable things about him. He
creates a team atmosphere that at once allows for outstanding output, while maintaining the most
excellent relations with the people working with him and for him. XYZ is a great team player and peers
have expressed interest in working with him in future. XYZ ensures everybody is happy; he brings coffee
in the morning, buys goodies for the team and organizes team events. On a recent project, XYZ finished
his work for the night but noticed that his peers were still working. He asked them to hand over some
work, so that the entire team could go home earlier. Many colleagues will call him to for advice on how
to solve tough problems.
The definitive question to ask when making your final decisions on who will write your MBA
recommendation letter is: will they write a letter that states that you are in the top 10-20% of
employees they have managed over the course of their career?
Remember that top-tier business schools only admit the top 10-15% of applicants! Therefore, it is critical
to request reference letters from your two or three most devoted senior colleagues who truly value
your contributions to the organization and the relationship you have built with them over the years.
Hopefully this helped you understand who you should approach for your MBA recommendation letter.